Sandwich Shop Goodies 21 – Bánh dầy đậu (Vietnamese mung bean mochi)

Legend said the first ever bánh dầy (pronounced |beng yay|) was a flat thick bun of cooked-and-pounded sticky rice, white and chewy and not recommended for dentures. The prince, taught by a Bodhisattva in his dream, made it to represent the sky, and bánh chưng to represent the earth. I don’t think the sky is chewy, but I really like it when it’s white. I also like banh day with silk sausage a lot. But somewhere along the history of Vietnam, somebody gave banh day a mung bean filling, softened the dough (which means more pounding for the sticky rice), rolled it into the size of a pingpong ball, and coated it with mung bean powder. I can NEVER get enough of this thing. $2 for 3. Found at: Alpha Bakery & Deli (inside Hong Kong City Mall) 11209 Bellaire Blvd # C-02 Houston, TX 77072-2548 (281) 988-5222 Unfortunately, I love them so much that the store-bought version just doesn’t do it for me. With Little Mom’s help, a batch has been made. A recipe is on the way. (UPDATE: the recipe is here.) […]

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Sandwich Shop Goodies 20 – Xôi khúc – Jersey cudweed sticky rice

There’s a Vietnamese song that starts like this: “Ten years pass by without seeing each other, I thought love had grown old/ Like the clouds that have flown by so many years, I thought we had forgotten.”(*) It then went on to say, as you might expect, that the narrator still yearns for that love like ten years ago. An even more dramatic thing happens to me: I still crave xôi khúc with the same passion of the last time I had it, which was twenty years ago. The lady who sold xôi khúc (xôi cúc if you’re from the South)(*) near our elementary school was old. In her sixties at least. She was clean, so Little Mom bought xôi from her. We never had xôi khúc from anyone else, and I don’t remember seeing anyone else selling it. Loosely wrapped in banana leaves like all other xôi(*), her xôi khúc beamed with the smell of ground black pepper in the bean paste and the cool, herbal flavor of the steamy sticky rice. After the lady stopped showing up in the mornings with her basket, we stopped having xôi khúc for breakfast. Xôi khúc is too […]

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Sandwich Shop Goodies 19 – Bánh tiêu (Chinese sesame beignet)

Little Mom and I… we just have different tastes. She likes seafood. She prefers crunchy to soft. She doesn’t like sticky rice (!) She thinks the mini sponge muffins (bánh bò bông, the Vietnamese kind) are sourer than the white chewy honeycombs (bánh bò, the Chinese kind). I beg to differ. The mini sponges can be eaten alone; the honeycombs are almost always stuffed inside a hollow fried doughnut that is more savory than sweet: their sourness needs to be suppressed by the natural saltiness of oil and the airy crunch of fried batter. That doughnut, brought to us by the Chinese and called by us “bánh tiêu“, saves the honeycombs. The honeycombs could go hang out with the dodo for all I care, but this Saigonese would always appreciate a well-fried bánh tiêu. At any time of the day, one would be able to spot a street cart with the signature double-shelf glass box next to a vat of dark yellow oil. The oil gets darkened from frying too many doughnuts too many times. Sure, it isn’t healthy. But should you really care about health when you eat fried dough? “Fried dough […]

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Sandwich Shop Goodies 18 – Vegan steamed taro cake (bánh khoai môn hấp)

It is not pretty, but from the label I knew right away that it would be good. Strips of nutty taro embedded in soft-chewy tapioca just got on my list of things to make, if I ever feel like cooking. That can mean only one thing: the online recipes seem that simple. If you google “bánh khoai môn hấp“, and presumably you read Vietnamese, the first links you find will contain something like dried shrimps (tôm khô) and pork, perhaps some mỡ hành (green onion in lard), too. That version is similar to Woo Tul Gow (or Woo Tau Ko). I haven’t tried that nor seen it in any cling-wrapped styrofoam plate at banh mi shops. If you don’t read Vietnamese, well… that’s why you have me :D: I translate. Here’s the Vietnamese recipe of the (vegan) steamed taro cake from Thư Viện Phật Học (The Library of Buddhist Studies), which most resembles what I’ve gotten from Alpha Bakery & Deli. Actually, this recipe sounds better. Like most Vietnamese recipes online, this one lacks precise measurement (which I agree with to some extent, but that’s […]

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Sandwich shop goodies 17 – Mung bean milk

Do you like soy milk? No? Well, someone once told me that if you don’t expect milk when you drink soy milk, then you’d enjoy it. Yes? Then you might just prefer this luscious, green, liquefied nourishment to soy milk. Not only is it nuttier, mung bean milk also feels more natural and more local than the modern soy milk. From the cheap plastic bottle with a green plastic cap and no label (that means no half-stamped “Sell by…” either), you can probably tell that it didn’t go through any metallic machine with pulleys and tubes. Whoever makes this mung bean milk probably soaks the beans overnight in a dented aluminum basin, boils the extract at 2 am in a sooty pot, and bottles the final liquid via a red plastic funnel that looks just like the one they always use for oil change. It doesn’t really matter as long as the delivery of a fresh batch comes at 6. The sandwich shop unstretches its iron folding doors. The customers start buzzing in. At 11 I came. I grabbed a bottle at the cashier. It was warm. Two and a half hours […]

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Sandwich Shop Goodies 16 – Nước rau má (pennywort drink)

Emerald green. Chilled. Clear. Leafy. Mildly sweet (sugar is added). Every time I pass by a patch of fuzzy spring grass, I dream of munching a tuft and inhaling the lush, youthful aroma of those dew- and rain-soaked blades. This two-dollar drink in this plastic cup is my dream come liquefied. Lately I have been slacking on the blogging front, mainly because I took on an editing job to compensate for my unwillingness to cook. Ironically, now my eating out budget has increased but I have neither time to eat nor to write about the stuff that I eat. On top of that, the last few weeks of the semester are, naturally, the time to sprint at the end of the marathon and the professors make sure that slacking means death (no joke). But sometimes it backfires when you’re too stressed, you ditch your homework, set out on an hour bus ride to your Vietnamese sandwich shop, order a cup of pennywort drink, and drown your sleep deprivation in eavesdropping others’ conversations. Little Mom used to make pennywort soup, the best remedy for hot weather and rising body temperature […]

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Sandwich shop goodies #15 – Bánh quy (turtle mochi)

Vietnamese Of my two hundred fifty some posts so far, this Sandwich Shop Goodies series brings me the most joy when writing and also takes me the longest time per post. It’s a collection of the bits and pieces that cost next to nothing. You may say why of course, how can a mere grad student afford The Slanted Door, The French Laundry, or our local Chez Panisse et al. Now although my salary certainly factors in my grocery list, the truth is I’ve lost interest in the uptown food scene. It dazzles like fireworks, and also like fireworks, it doesn’t stay. The mixing and matching of the freshest and strangest ingredients has blended so many nationalities into one that it loses culture like a smoothie losing texture. Those fancinesses don’t have a home. Meanwhile, I can spend days googling an obscure street snack and still regret that I haven’t spent more time, because I know that someone somewhere out there has an interesting story surrounding its identity that I haven’t heard. With such food there’s more than what goes into the pot that I can mention. […]

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Sandwich shop goodies 14 – Bánh da lợn (pig skin pie)

This is no stranger in the Vietnamese food biz: the layered pastry that gets its name from looking like pork belly, except green and yellow. Of course it doesn’t contain any pork skin, it’s sweet, sometimes may even be too sweet. Dad used to buy a whole pie home, as big as a platter and as warm as a father’s hand. From that same bakery somewhere in the market alley, he would buy bánh chuối nướng (bread pudding) too, which I always preferred to the bánh da lợn. But thinking back on those days when we lived near Bà Chiểu Market, it was certainly the best pig skin pie I ever ate. Many years have passed, and many bánh da lợn have been eaten by me, both in its homeland and across the seas. The best way, I figured, to slaughter these chewy beasts is to peel off the layers one by one, when it’s warm. That wet, smooth skin of tapioca flour, when warm, is fragile. You don’t want to break it while peeling, and you want to drop it whole in your mouth to wrestle with its resilience, all […]

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Sandwich Shop Goodies 13 – Bánh xu xê (couple cookie)

Vietnamese When you reach(ed) mid 20s, don’t you just hear all sort of marriage announcements popping up among your social circle? By the time of college graduation, half the girls I know have gotten their wedding registry up on Facebook, and I thought okay it’s just an American thing (the wedding I mean, though the registry is American too). Then this past Christmas my best college friend missed our annual reunion for his big day in India, and another pal who I thought was still wandering the streets of Chengdu dropped the bomb that he’s engaged. Then I got news that two of my eleventh grade buddies in Vietnam are going to say the vows (not to each other) within this year. Then it really hits me. I haven’t written about any wedding party food, even though I’ve been to many weddings :D. So why not celebrate this year’s Valentine’s day with a Vietnamese confection whose name derives from the main characters of any wedding: bánh xu xê, originally called bánh phu thê, or “husband (and) wife”? My translation “couple cookie” is for the sake of consonant concordance. They are similar to […]

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Sandwich shop goodies 12 – Chuối nếp nướng (grilled banana in sticky rice)

They all look the same. A myriad of things wrapped in wilted banana leaves sitting on the counter at a banh mi shop. Few patrons seem to notice the snacks as they occupy themselves with sandwich orders and the more meal-like rice or noodle to-gos, so much to the extent that the sellers too have little interest in selling their counter treats. Humbly, I point to these slender, charred and dry parcels piled in a box near the Pockys and inquire about their name. The hostess throws me half a glance infused with boredom, “Chuối nướng,” she moves her lips. So “grilled banana” they are. It takes an utterly simple form: a banana inside a sticky rice shell inside a banana leaf, charcoal grilled. Crispy, then chewy, then gooey sweet it goes as you sink your teeth through the bounteousness. It’s the factoriless meatless corn dog sans wooden stick of Southern Vietnam. Children would wait around old grandmas in the ‘hood to watch them grill the banana dogs and drool; adults would grab the banana dogs for breakfast, lunch, or late night snack when a wind chills […]

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